Meet Glenn. He’s our day dog. His forever family own and operate the local wine and cheese shop so Glenn spends his days—and sometimes into the evening—with us so he doesn’t eat and drink up all the shop’s profit. It’s a win-win-win situation for everyone.
Most everyone in town knows Glenn. He’s a very friendly little guy with a tail like a metronome set to allegro. To my knowledge, Glenn has never met a soul he doesn’t like. He greets every passer-by with an enthusiastic bark or two, and if he really is excited to see you, he might leak a little “oil” on your shoe. Nothing says love like a little spillage.
But as much as I love Glenn, I want to muse a little about chiaroscuro, the artistic technique that makes strong use of the contrast between light and dark. It’s a visibly arresting technique that impacts not just a particular object in a scene, but the entire composition of a canvas, often giving a painting or a photograph focus and a sense of volume—three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface. Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, and Caravaggio were all masters of the chiaroscuro technique; so, too, were Reubens, Velásquez, Vermeer, and many others. Their use of harsh, dramatic light served to isolate the subjects of their paintings and heighten the emotional tension of their themes. Want to see what I mean? Just Google Caravaggio’s “The Deposition of Christ” or Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” to visually experience the full impact of the chiaroscuro technique.
But if you really think about it, chiaroscuro is all around us, all the time; it’s an inherent part of our lives. Chiaroscuro is not simply an artist’s use of the contrast between light and dark; it represents the eternal jostling between good and evil, reason and belief, joy and grief, even life and death. It depicts all the opposing forces, the yins and yangs, that combine to create the whole cloth of our individual universes. Even a photographic portrait of a cute little dog sitting on a porch gives evidence of the twin towers of light and darkness that rule our lives. Glenn as a metaphor.
Without a good dose of chiaroscuro, the surfaces of our lives would be sadly flat. Without darkness, we can’t experience light. Without cold, we can’t appreciate heat. While we may sometimes rue the duality of life, without it, we would be nothing more than stick figures on scratch paper. We need shade and depth to be human, or even, for that matter, to be a dog.
Anyway, so sayeth Glenn. I don’t know what got into him. He’s not usually given to such ponderous thoughts; he’s more of a ‘what’s-for-dinner?’ kind of pooch. Nevertheless, if you happen to pass by some evening and you see him sitting on the porch, lean over the fence, rub his velvet ears, and say hello. Just watch out for your shoes.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine.
Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.